Back to This Week's Parshs| Previous Issues

Weekly Chizuk

Parshas Shemini

The Two Signs of a Kosher Jew

זאת החיה אשר תאכלו מכל הבהמה אשר על הארץ:

These are the animals you may eat among all the animals on earth: (Vayikra 11:2)

Parashas Shemini touches upon one of the most basic principles of Judaism: keeping kosher. In this parsha, the Torah lays down the core fundamental signs needed for a kosher species. For animals, they must chew their cud and have split hooves. Any animal possessing only one of these two signs - i.e. camel, rabbit, and pig - are not kosher to the same extent as any other animal lacking both signs.

I heard over in the name of Rav Avraham Pam, zt"l, that kashrus is not merely a dry halachah pertaining to what food we may eat. It is also a paradigm for our intrinsic being. As Rav Pam put it, Judaism not only entails eating kosher animals, but also being a kosher Jew. In order for one to be a wholesome Jew, there are "two signs" which must be adhered to: mitzvos bein adam la'Makom (commandments between man and G-d) and mitzvos bein adam la'chaveiro (commandments between man and man). Shabbos, kashrus and taharas hamishpacha must find equal balance with tzedakah, business integrity and chesed. The Gemara (Shabbos 31a) relates the story of a gentile who approached Shammai and asked to convert on the condition that he teach him the entire Torah while standing on one foot. Hearing such an absurd request, Shammai chased the man away with a measuring rod used for construction of a building. But the man would not give up so easily. Continuing to approach Hillel with the same request, Hillel told him, "What is hateful to you do not do to your friend. That is the entire Torah; the rest is commentary. Now go and learn."

This man's question appears unreasonably foolish on the surface. However, upon examination we see that it had a much deeper meaning. He was seeking to pinpoint which of the two aspects of mitzvah observance is more central and fundamental to life as a Jew. "Can you tell me which leg the entire Torah stands on?" asked the man. "Which is more important - mitzvos between man and G d or man and his fellow Jew?" When Shammai heard this, he immediately drove him away with a rod used to lay down the foundation of a building. "You cannot separate between the two," argued Shammai, "they go hand in hand. If you only have one without the other, your foundation of Torah observance will be unsteady and the entire structure will collapse."

But Hillel had a different answer for the man. "While it is true that both of these aspects are crucial and interdependent, there is one leg upon which the entire Torah can be said to be predicated upon - mitzvos between man and his fellow. If you treat another only as you yourself would like to be treated, you will have laid down the cornerstone upon which the rest of the Torah can be built."

In light of this, we can understand an intriguing discrepancy which existed between the two luchos with which Moshe descended from Har Sinai. With the mitzvos bein adam la'Makom occupying one Tablet and the mitzvos bein adam la'chaveiro occupying the second Tablet, there was a sum total of six hundred and twenty letters. However, there was a significant difference between the two. While the Tablet with the mitzvos bein adam la'Makom contained hundreds of letters, the second Tablet describing mitzvos between man and his fellow contained far less. Nevertheless, despite the relatively few letters comprising the mitzvos bein adam la'chaveiro, the Tablet was not any smaller in size. It had the exact same dimensions.

But this leads to a problem. How could the luchos have been of equal size if one had hundreds of letters less? What was done with all the extra space? The Mabit (Sefer Beis Elokim, Shaar HaYesodos, Ch. 12) explains that the letters on the Tablet enumerating the mitzvos bein adam la'chaveiro were enlarged to make up for the remaining space.

Accordingly, we can derive an important lesson from this phenomenon. People commonly gauge one's level of Judaism by one's commitment to mitzvos bein adam la'Makom. However, it is a mistake to believe that it stops there. One would be sorely mistaken were he to only care about his relationship with Hashem and overlook how he treats his fellow Jews. To emphasize this ever-important idea, the letters of the mitzvos discussing interpersonal relationships were significantly larger. This was done to underscore their equal importance and stress that we are never to lose focus of these commandments which Hillel termed, "The foundation of the entire Torah." They are to occupy the center of our attention and be diligently observed.

Along these line, we can also point out that Hillel answered this fellow by, "What is hateful to you do not do to your friend." Rashi comments that the word "friend" can be interpreted simply as your friend, or figuratively as referring to your Heavenly friend, Hakadosh Baruch Hu. If one develops the virtue of caring about his friend, he will naturally come to be punctilious about caring for his Heavenly friend and follow the mitzvos. Thus mitzvos bein adam la'chaveiro are the foundation on which to build bein adam la'Makom.

The life of a Jew is an equal balance between him and G d and him and the rest of Klal Yisroel. However, the way to arrive at such an equilibrium and fulfill the Torah in its entirety is to begin using Hillel's instructions. We are to unconditionally love our fellow Jews and care for them as our brothers and sisters. And when we do so, we can look forward to earning that pristine title of a "Kosher Jew" we all yearn for.

A Wife's Blessings, a Key to Shalom Bayis

Similarly bein adam la'chaveiro is a cornerstone of Shalom Bayis. By practicing bein adam la'chaveiro regarding one's real "friend", his spouse, he brings Shechina into his home. When each spouse cares for the other this brings down Hashem's bracha and the Shechina dwells among them. Many couples suffer from a lack of shalom bayis, and the following story can shed light on an essential solution.

I recently read an article by an Orthodox marriage counselor (Mrs. Sarah Karmely) in which she related an incident regarding a woman whose marriage was beginning to sour. When she first married, life went relatively smoothly, and only became that much better when she gave birth to her first child. Delighted and eager to build a family, she and her husband were overjoyed when the child was born. It was not too long thereafter that she in fact was expecting her second child. But then life changed.

Suddenly losing his job, her husband was out of work and understandably troubled. With little money to provide for his family, his marriage life began to suffer. Tension and arguments became commonplace in the home and matters went from bad to worse. Continuing to search for work, after much time and effort, he finally found a job working at a construction site.

But their relationship within the home did not become any better. As the wife became quite upset and frustrated with life in general, she began despising her husband. Angry both at her husband and Hashem, she became less religious and contemplated running away from her husband. But already with one child and carrying another, she was reluctant to take such a drastic move.

She decided she would go speak to a local Rebbitzen. Perhaps, she thought, she could help her pull through everything. Sitting to-gether with the Rebbetzin, she began to pour out her heart. "Is my marriage over? I don't love my husband and I want to leave. What should I do?" Gently looking back at her, the Rebbetzin handed her a book.

Reading through the book, she was moved by one particular article which described a family in Yerushalayim with fourteen children in a two-bedroom apartment. Despite the cramped living quarters, the family was happy.

What was their secret? Every morning after breakfast the husband, who owned a Jewish bookstore, left to go to work. As he got up from the table and began to head out the door, his wife followed him. Looking on as her husband began walking away from the house, she placed her hand on the Mezuzah.

And then she began to bless him, "Hashem, please take care of my husband, protect him, bless him, give him parnassah (income) and grant him success." When asked about her practice she answered, "Don't you know? If a woman blesses her husband, he will have success. If she doesn't, he will not."

As she read this anecdote, it suddenly dawned on her. "Why am I being so selfish? My husband is doing the best he can; why should I be upset with him?" And so, she decided to implement into her life what she had read in the book. Every single morning, without fail, as her husband would head out the door to work on his construction site, she placed her hand on the Mezuzah and blessed him.

One time, however, her baby kept her up all night. And, as could be expected, by the time morning rolled around and the time arrived for her husband to leave the house, she was still fast asleep. Her husband did not wish to awaken her, so he quietly left the house.

Immediately upon waking up and realizing what had happened, she ran to the telephone. Her husband did not have enough money to afford a cell phone, so communication was kept to the landline. Dialing the office of the construction site, a foreman picked up on the other end. "Can you please call my husband to the phone? I need to speak to him." "Ma'am," the foreman said, "your husband is on a scaffold right now and is three flights up. It is hard for him to come down to the phone now. Can you call back later?" "No, no, I must speak to him now," she urgently pressed.

Receiving the message that it was his wife on the phone, the husband, wishing to maintain his shalom bayis which had been improving, descended from the scaffold and entered inside to answer the call. Picking up the phone, she began profusely blessing him and wishing him a wonderful day. Taking in the kind words of his wife, all the husband could say was, "Amen." Hanging up the phone, the husband was glad he had come to the phone. His wife's words touched his heart.

But he was even gladder he had come to the phone when he turned around.

Right before his eyes, the scaffold upon which he was standing just minutes before came crashing down. Shocked and not sure if he was dreaming or seeing reality, all he could think about was his wife and her brachos.

Sincerely asking that Hashem bless and protect another person goes a long way. And in particular, the heartfelt prayers and tears shed by a Jewish wife and mother for her family pierce the heavens. Bringing blessing to her husband and children, she not only protects them in the home, but even outside the home. Indeed, a Jewish woman's prayer brings bracha, shalom, and hatzlacha.

Wishing Everyone A Gut Shabbos!

© Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
4 Panim Meirot, Jerusalem 94423 Israel
Tel: 732-858-1257
Rabbi Parkoff is author of "Chizuk!" and "Trust Me!" (Feldheim Publishers), and "Mission Possible!" (Israel Book Shop Lakewood).
If you would like to correspond with Rabbi Parkoff, or change your subscription, please contact:

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel